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User Training - User Training

Users solving problems on their own not only means finding the answer but also being able to understand that answer. This can only be accomplished by training. Simply saying that users need training is not enough. You must also define in what areas users need training, how detailed the training should be, and how often they should have training.

For example, in one company we provided training for Microsoft Word. The company also had the documentation standard that defined, among other things, what formatting was to be used for different elements of the documentation. However, format standards were not discussed during Word training. Therefore, the users either did not know how to format the documents correctly or they did not use the proper tools. For example, many people created bullet lists by putting an asterisk at the beginning of each line. This did not look very good and it meant that each new item had to be formatted by hand. It was worse with numbered lists when an item was inserted into the middle of the list. That is, each subsequent entry had to be renumbered by hand. All this work could have been avoided by spending five extra minutes during the Word training to explain how to do numbered lists.

Training is not just for the applications but for the entire system as well. For example, I believe it is important to explain basic network or computer concepts to your end users. In one company, we noticed that at regular intervals the throughput to one of our branch offices dropped to almost zero. This is because huge files were being sent across the network and blocked out everything else. When we explained to the users how networks functioned, they understood why they shouldn’t transfer files the way they did. The solution was to set up the transfer to be done in the middle of the night. We had wasted hours of time tracking down the problem that could have been prevented with five minutes of training.

I think that it is important to set up training for all new employees. Issues should include basics as well as details of how your computer systems are set up and basic issues such as not transferring large files in the middle of the day. Things like mapping network drives, selecting new printers, and other issues that most administrators take for granted should be also included. You might want to consider a test for all new employees to evaluate their skill levels and then assign training accordingly. For example, a fairly knowledgeable user may not need training but could be given the training materials to study on his or her own or may just need an overview of how your system works.

I firmly believe that not only should this kind of training be a requirement but it should enjoy the full support of the company management. This means that the training should be done on company time. This may seem like an obvious statement, but I know of companies that provide this training only after-hours, on the employees’ time. Most employees did not take advantage of this, and as a result, more time was lost by the administrators who had to explain basic issues to each employee individually. This was not very cost effective.

Part of this is to schedule the training. This means setting aside a specific time and place for the training and ensuring that the training does take place. The training must be scheduled well in advance and made public so that users wishing to attend will be able to. Once again, it is vital that training being supported by the company management. Without training, users cannot use the computer system sufficiently and support costs go up. It is my experience that the cost of any training is offset by reduced support costs.

I worked in a company whose attitude toward training was literally "sink or swim" It was common (actually the rule) when application software was purchased, it was installed and the users were on their own to figure out how it worked. They were not even given the manuals to use, as these were kept by the system administrators in case they needed to look up something.

This is a classic case of people not understanding the total cost of ownership. The more users you have who "fight" with the software, the more expensive that software becomes. That is, the more time they spend looking for answers or doing things improperly, the less time they spend on productive work.

An added cost is that in most cases, the users do not use the full functionality of any of the software they have. Therefore, it is often more beneficial to buy a "lite" version of the same product or a different product with fewer features. One good example is MS Word versus WordPad delivered with Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT. I have worked in places where hundreds of users never used any more of the functions than were provided by WordPad. The IT manager was simply caught up in Microsoft’s marketing, that we just had to have all of the features of MS Word and always have the most recent versions. This wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and the total value of ownership for MS Word was less, because we gotless value out of it. The real problem is not that users had a product of which they didn’t use all of the features. Instead, the problem was that they didn’t know how to use those features. In other words, they lacked the training.

It is impossible to get away from the fact that training costs money. Either you pay for outside training or someone internally needs to take the time, which costs money. The truth is that training does make sense, but the question arises of how much money are you willing to give out. The biggest cost is the person—if that cost could be eliminated or reduced, training might be more affordable.

One obvious solution is to buy copies of the manuals, or in the case of Microsoft products buying books from third-party publishers, in order to get the necessary details. Although you can get good books on many subjects for about $30, books are not always the best teachers, as they are not interactive and do not "show" you how to do something.

Fortunately, there is a solution between the active, hands-on of a human instructor and the low price of books. There are a number of vendors of training products that do an excellent job of teaching you the basics as well going into details of the various subjects.

One of the issues I encountered is that there is no one method or even one vendor that is the best in every case. Some vendors produce videos and others provide their instruction on CD-ROM. Depending on your circumstance, both are useful.

First, videos are useful for those topics where you do not need to be directly in front of the computer. These are generally limited to introductory topics, but you can watch these kinds of videos in a more-relaxed environment. Often on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I will watch one of theses videos. Although I typically have a pad of paper next to me to write down notes, it is a low-stress way of learning something new.

If you have a large number of users, displaying the video can also be more beneficial than books as well as cheaper than hiring an instructor. If you have a classroom where the users can sit at computers to practice the things in the video, they will definitely get more out of it than watching the video alone. Although an instructor can answer questions, a well-presented video can still provide an acceptable level of training.

One limitation of the video that cannot be overcome is that it is not interactive. Interactive, hands-on training is often much more effective than videos are. Today, this is typically done with CD-ROMs, which contain the training courses. Here you play the CD directly on your workstation and can move back and forth through the instruction much more (and much quicker) than you can with a video.

In many cases, there are interactive exercises on the CD that guide you through the steps. Another key advantage is the ability of a CD to provide testing of the material. I have seen some products that have a set of questions, which are always presented in the same fashion and in some cases in the exact same order. Better products not only change the order of both the questions and the tanswers.

Unfortunately, one thing I have yet to find is a test that jumps back to the appropriate part of the lesson when you answer incorrectly. In addition, all products I have seen will tell you if your answer is incorrect, but few will tell you which answer is the right one.

Another issue that I have encountered is the style of the instruction. This refers to both the package as a whole and the person who is giving the instruction. One might think that for videos there is not much you can do with the "style." However, among the different companies that offer video training, there is a big difference in how the material is presented. In some cases, the instructor acts as if he is at gunpoint, with no enthusiasm at all. In other cases, the instructor is like an old friend, showing you something that he or she really enjoys.

Also look for the level of competence of the instructor. Although you cannot always tell if the instructor really knows what he or she is talking about, you can often see if the instructor appears to be following a script. I have seen a few videos where it was obvious that the instructor did not even understand what they were saying.

Also look at how much of the instruction has the instructor sitting there describing the material you and how much of it is showing you the application or something related to the topic. I have seen some material that is comparable to simply making a video of an instruction in a classroom, with the instructor writing everything on a blackboard. You need a product that takes advantage of the existing technology, which means interactivity, as well as a little entertainment.

One of the key issues is reference points in the videos. You should choose a video product that has on-screen markers to tell you in what section you are currently in. (AUTH NOTE: Aren’t we ending a sentence with a preposition???) If you are taking notes, you can indicate the appropriate section and find that section again, if necessary. If there are no on-screen markers, you waste a great deal of time fast-forwarding and rewinding the tape.

Some companies provide just the video, whereas others provide workbooks. Although the workbook should match the material, it does not need to be a mirror copy. I have seen some material where it is almost a transcription of what the instructor is saying; there is no supplemental information at all. Although this is useful, so you do not need to take notes, you are missing a great opportunity to get more information.

Another factor is what I call the ICR problem. ICR stands for "I Can Read" and it refers to video and CD training where the instruction simply repeats what is on the screen without explaining anything about it. For example, I remember one video where the instructor read the entries in a directory. There was almost no explanation of the function of each file and subdirectory, and the ones that were explained were generally self-explanatory.

One thing you can do with CD training that you cannot do with a video is to have interactive questions. Although a video could have a quiz at the end, the questions and answers are always in the same order. If you take the quiz repeatedly, this can lead to memorizing the order without knowing the answers. That is, you memorize that the answer to question 6 is B. However, with CD-based training, you can change the order of both the questions and the answers. To some extent it is also possible to have different incorrect choices answers each time through.

Take a look at the applications for which a particular vendor provides training material. Although it is less important than with the application software, having a consistent format is still beneficial. Therefore, you might consider going with the vendor who provides training materials for all of the applications you use, although you feel their instruction method is not optimal for your needs. On the other hand, you might want to consider choosing different vendors for the training on different products, depending on how well the information is presented.

All of the products that I will discuss have their own merits and shortcomings. As I mentioned previously, no single teaching method is valid in every circumstance. Therefore, if you plan to implement video or CD training, you should consider taking a look at one example from each company to get a feeling for the methods this company uses. In some cases, particularly with CD training, you might be able to get a demo CD from the vendor that gives you a feeling for what the training is like. You may also find that the vendor provides a money-back guarantee if you return the product within a specified period.

Some companies will lump all of their products together into one long list, whereas other separate them into (generally) two groups: applications and desktop. Often the company’s definition of "desktop" is anything not immediately definable as an application. Some companies add the category "certification." These courses are designed explicitly to teach you the material needed to pass the certification programs of many vendors, such as Novell, Cisco, and Microsoft.

As the Internet grew, many companies began to add on-line training to their course offerings. Although this is intrinsically a good thing, as the training is always up-to-date, you have the disadvantage of limited bandwidth. If you are playing a training CD on your local machine or even across a local network, you typically have more bandwidth than across the Internet. If you have a relatively slow Internet connection, trying to access on-line training courses can be a bother.

Some companies have addressed this issue by limiting the material on the Internet. It may be restricted to nonvideo material and in some cases even just on-line tests. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as you constantly have new material, and the questions can reflect new or changed products much quicker than can the CDs or videos. It is just something to be aware of.

If you are thinking about on-line training, look into what corporate programs the company offers. As with other types of products, you can generally get quantity discounts. This can either be for a specific number of courses or a specific number of students. Many companies also offer corporate programs for their CD or video training courses. In addition, they may also provide free upgrades should a newer version of the course be developed during the term of your contract.

Also look at the company itself and its relationship with the vendors of the various products. Although not having a direct relationship with the vendor does not necessarily equate to a bad product, you have no guarantees of the content. Although you can judge the overall quality of the training in terms of how well it is presented, the material may not be 100% accurate, particularly if the material goes into a lot of detail that you do not test or practice yourself. Having a 1:1 relationship with the software vendor help ensure the newest and most accurate information.

Many of the training vendors are themselves official Corel Solution Partners or Microsoft Solution Providers. This generally means that one or more people employeed by the training company have been certified by the software vendor. In addition, often many of the instructors on the videos and CDs are certified to instruct products from the respective vendor.

Another key aspect of helping the users to help themselves is security training. If the system is down because someone has broken into it, it does little good for your users. Therefore, users need to be aware of the different ways they can protect the system. For example, they may need to be instructed about password security. That is, how to select good passwords, not telling others with their passwords are, not writing their passwords down, and so on. Other aspects include setting permissions on files to prevent unauthorized access, password protecting documents, password protecting your screen saver, and so on.

In fact, I am a firm believer that users cannot know too much about security. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to make your users aware of all the details of security that we discussed in Chapter 6 on system security. (X-ref.) Obviously, much of that information may be too detailed for some of your users. However, it should be made available to them. On the other hand, it is possible to simplify some of the information to make it more understandable.

I worked for one company where the MIS manager didn’t believe in training. It was okay for the people in the factory to get training. However, we were the high-paid techie types didn’t need the training. We could get our knowledge through "learning-by-doing." It didn’t matter that he never gave us time to train or that we were losing money on a daily basis because we kept having to flip through manuals to find answera and that every month came the latest software that we just had to implement. It was obvious to everyone in the department (except him) that we could save a lot of money and time by sending people to real training.

A week-long course may cost several thousand dollars, but it is insignificant compared to the losses without that course. I have seen it repeatedly where it took over a year to reach the same level as a week of training! Hours were spent flipping through the manuals and end-user efficiency is greatly decreased as they wait for the "expert" to find the answer. Remember that a down system costs an average of $5000 an hour. That is well worth the price of training courses.

If your company provides training on Windows NT to your users, you know the problems with lab machines. After users have been on the machines for the training, there is no guarantee that they will be in a completely usable state for the next class. This is not to say the users intentionally mess up the machines. However, depending on the training you give, the state of the machine is unknown. If you expect a particular state when you start the instruction, you need to return each machine to its original state.

You could reinstall each machine. This takes a great deal of time and is not cost effective. You can have the users return the machine to their original state once the training is complete. However, this requires that the users not only remember exactly what they did, but that they are capable of making the changes. The other solution is the ability to reset the system to the original settings.

Disk-cloning products are perhaps the quickest and most direct approach to this problem. It allows trainers, system integrators, resellers, and anyone else the ability to configure a large number of machines quickly and easily. This is done by creating a disk image, which contains all of the necessary information. This information is then transferred to the target system, much faster than installing it by hand.

Some products, such as RapiDeploy from Altiris Inc. increase the efficiency further by allowing you to install multiple machines at once. This is done using a multicast network address, so that all target machines receive the data simultaneously, without overloading the network. This make RapiDeploy extremely scalable as you simply broadcast to more machines.

Even when a machine is cloned, in many cases a technician needs to "touch" each machine and make the proper configuration settings. Over time, this additional work becomes a substantial part of the overall cost of the product. RapiDeploy is one of the only products that integrated the cloning process with an advanced configuration service, which is fully automatic. When the PC is first installed, RapiDeploy stores all of the unique settings within a matter of minutes, allowing you to restore them just as fast. Keep in mind that if it only take five minutes per machine to make the changes, 12 machines takes an hour.(Per the Chicago Manual of Style, numbers less than 100 should be spelled out, see 8.2-8.10. In addition, these changes are not consistant through the book!!!)

One common problem is the unique system ID that is generated when a Windows NT machine is installed. RapiDeploy solves this by using its SIDGen program, which basically runs the same processes on the machine after it has been cloned that is done during the initial install to generate the unique ID.

Specific for lab or training environments, Altiris also provide LabExpert. It is expected, if not desired, that during training, users will make changes to the computers. As a result, when the next person sits down, there is no way of knowing if it is in a usable state. The solution for many companies is to either leave it as it is or reinstall from scratch. This is an obvious waste of time.

LabExpert solves this problem by maintaining a record of settings that can be reset at will. Since only the changes are undo, there is no need to wait as each machine is reinstalled. However, there may be cases where a reinstall is the best solution. LabExpert can manage disk images, so the machines can be reinstalled in fraction of the time.

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Published on: 0000-00-00 (4652 reads)

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